State-subsidized Day Camps Only for First-and Second-graders, Yet Again

The program, launched in 2014 to help working families, was supposed to expand through sixth grade this summer but its budget was not increased.

A day camp at a Lod school.
Tomer Appelbaum

A government-subsidized summer day camp program will not be expanded this summer to include children who completed the third and fourth grades because its budget was not increased accordingly. As a result, the camps will only be for children who are in the first and second grades this year.

Miri Dabush, the Education Ministry’s district supervisor of camps, announced the decision on Monday at a meeting of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee. She said the program’s budget remains unchanged at 225 million shekels ($58 million), so it can’t expand beyond first- and second-graders.

The camps, which began operating in the summer of 2014, were a pet project of then-Education Minister Shay Piron. He viewed the camps, which run from 8 A.M. to 1 P.M., as a way to help working parents who can’t take two months off from work to be with their children during summer vacation. The program began with first- and second-graders, but was supposed to expand in two stages over the ensuing three years — first to the third and fourth grades, then to fifth and sixth grades.

The expansion didn’t take place last summer because the government fell in late 2014 without having approved the 2015 budget. This meant the ministry had to continue operating under its 2014 budget, which included no funds for the expansion. But the ministry also canceled the camps that were run for some 30,0000 third- to fifth-graders in poor neighborhoods during the program’s first year, claiming its budget wouldn’t even cover those.

Now it turns out the 2016 budget also includes no funds for the program’s expansion, even though both parents and teachers lauded the camps.

The cost to parents of each three-week session is determined by the economic ranking of their community according to the scale used by the Central Bureau of Statistics. In the poorest communities — economic clusters one through four — all fees are waived. For communities in clusters ranked five through seven, parents pay 300 shekels per child. In the wealthiest communities, clusters eight to 10, the fee was 450 shekels per child. By comparison, a three-week private day camp can cost up to 3,000 shekels.

The forum of local parents’ associations on Monday urged the ministry to reconsider, saying the program was a “big success” that provided “a solution for tens of thousands of families.” The Union of Local Authorities, which chipped in about 40 million shekels for the camps last year, also demanded that they be expanded to third- and fourth-graders as planned.

The ministry responded that it has a limited budget, and decided that its highest priorities this year were reducing class sizes in elementary schools, adding a second assistant in overcrowded kindergartens and improving math studies.